2015 07 04
Weekend Away Talk 2:
Prayer = Intimacy
Hebrews 12.18-29; John 16.19-28
Earlier we reflected on what was lost in the fall: remember the image of Adam and Eve in the garden, walking hand in hand with God as children with their Father. And I suggested that this intimacy with God was the key blessing that was given away; and it is a blessing that God has worked through all of history to restore to us.
In this talk I want to explore with you how by prayer we experience now, in the fallen world, the blessing of intimacy with God. I want to show you how in prayer we approach God as children to our Father, we come right up close to him in his heavenly throne room and because of Jesus he hears us and answers our prayers… We'll come back to the answering of prayers more in our next talk, but before we get to individual blessings that come by prayer we need to stop and see that the prayer itself is blessing – the intimacy that we have with God in prayer is immense blessing in itself.
Before we go on let's spend a moment in prayer:
Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Thank you that we who are broken and sinful, who have earned nothing but wrath from you, still can come to you as Father and receive grace and help from you. Please be gracious to us now and teach us from your word to make us strong in faith so that we will trust you more, love you more, and delight to pray to you more and more. In Jesus name Amen.
So what is the big idea of this talk? Prayer is entering into the presence of God in his majesty, to ask and receive what Jesus deserves.
Let me repeat that for you: Prayer is entering into the presence of God in all his majesty to ask and receive what Jesus deserves.
We need to break that down into manageable chunks, so I have three points to make:
1) Prayer is coming to God on his heavenly throne
2) Prayer is coming to God as our Father
3) Prayer is coming to receive what Jesus deserves
1) Prayer is coming to God on his heavenly throne
Throughout Hebrews we are called to enter into God's presence by prayer, 4.16 is most explicit. It says: 'Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need'. We find echoes of this idea in chapter 6,7,9, 10, and of course the throne of grace is developed in the passage we heard, chapter 12, verses 18-29.
So I want us to think about what it is to come before God's throne. There are numerous passages in the bible that speak of the glory and majesty of God in his heavenly court – his throne room.
Hebrews 12 refers back to Exodus 32 when the people of Israel got a sneak peak of God's glorious throne room - God brought his glory down onto Mt Sinai, the mountain was enveloped by dark clouds heavy with thunder and lightening. This is the mountain that can be touched and is burning with fire: darkness, gloom and storm that Hebrews 12 speaks about. The Israelites were so overwhelmed with fear that they begged Moses to ask God to stop speaking to them or they would die! Even Moses said I am trembling with fear!
And that fear is a common factor in biblical accounts of visions of God's throne room - this is what it is like to see God in his glory. We see something similar in Isaiah 6: Isaiah has a vision of God's heavenly court where angels like vast living creatures speak in a voice that shakes the very heavens and God's glory shines with such intensity that his automatic response is fall on his face and cry out 'woe is me'; Ezekiel has several visions of God's glory in heaven with powerful angels attending him and smoke and fire coming from God's throne. His response? To fall face down; in Daniel 7 Daniel sees a vision of God's throne on the day of Judgement when thousands upon thousands of angels in massed ranks attend the almighty God as he brings judgement on all peoples for how we have lived. Daniel says I was deeply troubled and my face turned pale and he did not eat for several weeks. In Revelation 1 John sees the risen Jesus – John who was closest of all the disciples to Jesus at the sight of Jesus now transformed and appearing just like that mighty one described in Daniel 7 – and John says 'when I saw him. I fell at his feet as though dead'. And then in Rev ch 4-11 we have an extended description of the throne room in heaven as God sits on his throne, receiving the praise of his angels and his people, and controlling the fate of the nations as he governs human history.
These passages taken together paint a vivid picture of God's immense power and glory and majesty. God is seated at the centre of a vast, vast crowd of unimaginably powerful angelic beings. Even in that company he is highly exalted, lifted up on a throne that towers above them, and his glory and greatness and splendour are such that being in his presence they cannot help themselves but bow before him and cry out his goodness!
We see same thing reflected in the various Kingdoms of the world don't we? Examine the great castles and palaces and royal courts and they're all different, but in their different ways they are designed to impress on us the glory and splendour and power of the King who rules there. They're designed to belittle us – the crowd – and to elevate the Ruler. Think of the forbidden city in China, with it's courtyards layered up one on the other, ascending as you get closer to the royal residence; think of the Red Square and the Kremlin towering over it in Russia, or St Peter's Basilica in Rome or the Palace of Versailles, even modern Washington with its White House and national monuments …
Mostly these palaces are empty monuments to bygone power, but I want you to try and imagine what it would be like to walk into one of those great seats of power and to see the monarch seated up high on their throne, and their soldiers and servants thronging around them in demonstration of power. Perhaps you remember film of the Nuremberg Rallies - Hitler's massed troops frog marching by saluting as they pass, or cold war era soviet tanks and missiles and men marching straight legs thrust out in front of them. These parades designed to evoke awe and fear, to project power and even danger – to say to the nation we are strength itself, none can stand before us; and to say to their enemies we will crush you!
And all of that is child's play to God. All our power, all our might – it is literally like the toy soldiers and plastic superheroes that our children arrange in mock battles. Compared to God there is no comparison: We wheel out rocket launchers – He spread out the stars in the sky; We build high towers and palaces and monuments – He formed the earth like putty and measured out the oceans with his hands; We make the earth fly with our ballistic missiles, harness the power of the sun and the wind and the earth – God gathers the clouds into tornados, forms the Tsunamis, shifts the tectonic plates to rattle the earth like shaking out a table cloth; Great men lead armies and start movements, shape history to their will and leave a lasting name for themselves – And God laughs and sweeps them away so that the earth remembers them no more. In the end we will all fade away, we breathe our last and we're gone, for dust we are and to dust we return –But God endures forever: We are made - he is the maker; all the power we have is derivative – he is the one who gives it, all power is derived from him, the original source of all.
So think then of what it is to enter into the presence of the living God!
To enter into God's presence is to come before the most mighty, most glorious, most wonderful and most terrifying being that there is and can ever be. It is to be dwarfed by real power and put in our place isn't it?
And we need to face this honestly: This God who is so powerful and glorious and mighty and terrifying is the same God who we've rejected as unworthy of our obedience. The very same.
We have no right to come into his presence, except as prisoners to stand at the dock. I mean, imagine waking up to find yourself smack bang in the middle of the Nuremberg Rally dressed in full military get up of the enemy, undeniably an enemy of the state – all those boots bearing down on you, all those guns aimed at you: your only fair expectation is to be mercilessly squashed isn't it?
To come into God's presence is to do something that no person – other than Jesus – has any right to do. It is to do something spectacularly foolish and dangerous if it were not for one thing – we do not go before God in our own name, but in the name of Jesus.
And on that one thing everything turns. Coming in the name of Jesus we come into God's presence as a friend and not an enemy, as one who is invited, welcome and at home.
Do you see what an awesome privilege this is?
In prayer we enter into the very presence of God the one and only, the mighty ruler of all; and we find there a loving welcome, a home, a place to belong. You, and me – who are we? We're nothing, we're not welcome at no. 10 Downing Street, we're not even welcome at the Mayor's house, and they hand that out to someone new every year, there's not even any power in it! And yet we can go far above their heads and straight to the very top.
Just savour that for a moment: by prayer we come into the very throne room of God and find a welcome, a home, a loving God who's glad to see us.
And as if that weren't enough we come to God as our very own Father.
2) Prayer is speaking to God as our Father
Remember the interplay between us and Jesus and the Father in our John reading – John 16.23:
In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my father, In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I cams from God.
Indeed, remember the Lord's Prayer: 'Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name...' Our Father.
Though we should be God's enemies when we come into his presence to pray we don't come cowering in fear before our conqueror, we come with joy in our hearts before our own Father.
What does it mean to be God's son? There is a rich background to this in the OT – the nation of Israel is called God's son whom God rescued out of Egypt. David the anointed King is called God's son, the one with God's power to save and to rule. But the ultimate meaning is found in Jesus himself, who is not just God's son, but also God, the Son.
When Jesus came into the world his identity was a mystery. The Jews couldn't work him out – the better they knew their OT the more confused they were because they just couldn't' fit him into the promises of the coming Messiah. But God made it clear from the very beginning that Jesus was all he claimed to be. Twice God declared from heaven with his own voice that Jesus is his son – at Jesus first public appearance at his baptism, and just before his last at his death. Both times God spoke from heaven with audible voice saying: 'this is my son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased' that's Matt 3.17 (after his baptism) and Matt 17.5 (when Jesus transfigured before his crucifixion, with added listen to him!) Both time God gave clear signs – including the cloud and darkness that alludes to Exodus 32 - to show that the voice was no less than the voice of God pronouncing sentence on Jesus – beloved son, well pleased with him was the verdict!
Jesus is well pleasing to God because Jesus has always done God's will, right up to and including taking on himself all the sin of the world to stand in our place, without exception Jesus does God's will. Jesus does God's will because he and his Father are forever in all eternity united. Jesus abiding desire is to please his Father and bring him glory. The Fathers abiding desire is to love the Son and bring him glory. They are distinct persons within the one God head – along with the Holy Spirit they are perfectly united in all eternity. This is why Jesus can say 'God is love' because God exists in eternal perfect relationship of giving and receiving, of loving and being loved. The three persons of the Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit are so closely united in love that they form one God. This is mathematically confusing and profound beyond our penetrating. And among the great wonders of the trinity is this great anomaly – God invites us to come to him in the name of his son, he joins himself to us, and he joins us to him, in such a tight unity that we now come not in and of ourselves, but in Jesus, as adopted sons.
What does that mean for our prayers? If you go through the gospels and trace out Jesus' prayer life you'll see that Jesus was a man of prayer. He prays publically and privately. He often withdrew to lonely places to pray (luke 5.16). After healing all the sick in Capernaum he got up very early in the morning, while it was still dark and went off to a solitary place, to pray (Mark 1.35). He prayed on the mountain all night before he appointed the disciples (Luke 6.12-13); after feeding the 5000 the disciples left him behind to pray while they went ahead across the lake in their boat (Mark 6.46). He prayed before he raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11.41). Famously He cried out to God for help in the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22.39), and he cried out to God in desolation on the cross (Mark 15.34). Time and again in the gospels we find Jesus in prayer, in short prayers and long prayers, even extended times of anguished prayer. He came to God in joyful obedience and in humble dependence, and he looked to God to provide all that he needed, day by day.
In the first talk we imagined a world where God drops by our house to take us out for a walk. Imagined a world where we confidently took his hand and spoke of our fears and our joys, our hopes and our expectations, just talked through our day. Jesus lived that reality in his life on earth. In prayer he entered into God's presence and God met with him and sustained him, strengthened him, provided for him.
And now, to come to God as Sons is to come in Jesus name just as Jesus does, to come before the Father with confidence that he is good and that he's on our side. It is to enjoy an easy intimacy with God that could never belong to us outside of Jesus.
Remember the Sermon on the Mount: Jesus says 'which of you fathers, if his son asks for a loaf of bread, will give him a stone, or if your son asks for a fish will give him a snake? If you, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?' (Matt 7.9-11). And again he says look at the grass and the flowers – God dresses them with greater splendour than Kings in their palaces and you are more valuable to God than flowers; and look at the birds of the air, they don't labour or store grain, but God feeds them and you are worth more than birds (Matt 6.25-34). His point – in prayer we come to a loving, gracious Father who knows our needs and delights to provide for us. We have no need to be anxious with a Father like that.
We don't step into the parade ground to be run down by hostile troops, we come into God's throne room to be greeted with open arms and a declaration that 'this is my son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased!' So shoot to the end of the bible and there is another image of incredible intimacy, richer even and better than the walking with God.
In Rev 21 there is another scene in the throne room of God, and again God's powerful voice booms out from the throne. And what is it that he says? From that throne where God sits highly exalted He says that he himself will take us in his arms and will wipe every tear from our eyes. We come into the throne room broken, weeping, weighed down with fears and anxieties, weak in faith, broken in spirit, persecuted, exhausted, harassed and helpless, bearing our scars and our bruises; we're like little lost lambs, helpless and afraid… and the one on the throne reaches down to us and scoops us up in his powerful embrace and says 'I've got you, you're mine, it's alright, I've got this…' And in his arms we find that there will be no more dying or mourning or death or pain.
The full physical reality of that lies ahead of us in time and space. It's a reality that we will fully experience when we meet him face to face in the new creation. And it is a reality that we can taste now in prayer where we come into the very throne room of God and find grace to help in time of need.
Isn't that wonderful? This is the glorious intimacy we have with the Father in prayer.
And finally, and briefly:
3) Prayer gets what Jesus deserves:
Back to John 16.23-28 again, verse 23 'I tell you, the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name'
If what we have been saying is so, if we come to God in the name of Jesus, if we bow before a heavenly Father who loves us as he loves his son, that means even more than that we find a welcome in heaven. It means that God answers us as he answers his own son. We'll hear more on this tomorrow so I'll be brief. But it follows doesn't it, that if we come to God in Jesus' place, then we expect to be received as Jesus is received. Jesus' the great man of prayer, who Hebrews 5 assures us was heard because of his humble obedience – of course he was, 'this is my son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased'.
When we come into God's presence in Jesus' name we come to him who loves us because of Jesus. As the confession prayer puts it 'you have loved us with an everlasting love'. We can come to God boldly and ask boldly in prayer, knowing that we will get what Jesus would get.
Now what Jesus would get in answer to his prayers is not always the same as what we would ask for. To my knowledge Jesus never asked for anything that would correspond to a Caribbean Holiday, a Lamborghini, a new kitchen or a Gucci bag. As we see him in the gospels Jesus isn't interested in luxuries, in pampering or self indulgence. Look at Jesus meeting Satan in the wilderness temptation for instance: Satan invites him to ask God for comfort, luxury and glory without sacrifice – he says 'hungry Jesus? Turn the stones into bread' – that is, use God for material comfort, ease up on the suffering a little Jesus, put your feed up and indulge in a little 'me time' why don't you?… and he says 'if you're really the son of God prove it, throw self off temple and see if God keeps his promises!' – take the crowds by storm, claim the glory Jesus, it's your turn to shine… or closer still to the bone – you can rule the earth without suffering and without obedience if you will just bow down to me. But Jesus rejects those temptations. He won't be distracted from his primary purpose – to please his Father by finishing the work his Father gave him.
Jesus is determined to please his Father by finishing the work his Father has given him to do. And the Father in his turn is determined to bring glory to his Son by enabling him to finish the work he gave him to do. So the Father answers Jesus in the way best designed to help Jesus to please him by finishing the work his Father gave him. That's what we should expect God to do for us too – to answer in the way best designed to help us to please him by doing the good works he has given us to do. We'll come back to this tomorrow.
For now we're going to draw things to a close. What have we seen? Prayer is how we experience the reversal of our alienation from God now, in the time while we wait to see him face to face. Sin has torn us away from God, but God's grace brings us back to him. One day we will live in his very presence, bodily and with great joy.
And right now we can taste that intimacy with the God of the universe when we come to him in prayer. When we bow before him we enter into the very throne room of God himself. God is seated there high and exalted. Rank upon rank of angels, delighting to do his will, eagerly fall before him and cry praise to him such is his glory and majesty.
And into that great scene we're now inserted. We're small and insignificant, but we're not lost in that crowd. We've lived as God's enemies, stored up for ourselves wrath in God's account book; and yet even so we're not destroyed. Rather, the Lord of all glory seated there on his throne delights to welcome us – even us – right up onto the throne with him, seats us in his lap, wipes the tears away and sorts us out.
That is something far greater than any experience this world has to offer isn't it? This intimacy with God is the highest blessing God can give to us – he makes us like his own son. And this intimacy, this great blessing from God is available now for us to experience in prayer… don't you want to pray more, and pray better, and walk more and more closely with this great God? Let's pray